I remember first having the thought of becoming a social worker during my Junior College days. I don’t know where that came from but as I recall, it was perhaps because I grew up seeing my parents always offering help to others, including relatives and neighbours.
I have sat in and listened to how they mediate conflicts between neighbours and their kids and also their advice to people who visit us. In addition, people also come to them for advice on funerals and rituals.
I almost did not make it to the social work profession as I failed my A-Levels. After much persuasion from my parents, I retook my A-Levels, managed to pass my exams and got into the university. Social Work was the natural choice.
As a new social worker, I was very eager to help those in need, rescue those in trouble and be there when they needed me. My goal was to make their lives better.
The workload was high, like over 40 cases at any one time, and everyone needed help in one way or another. Putting in 14 hours in a day of work was not unusual. The feeling of accomplishment was a strong motivation to do more but it was also not necessarily the right thing to do.
The greatest challenge is in trying to meet everybody’s needs. Not everybody needs help in the same way. It took me sometime to realise that and even with that realisation, I didn’t have the skills. It took a lot of learning, reflecting, un-learning and re-learning. Inevitably, after nine years, burnout set in. That was the greatest challenge in my career.
The capacity to reflect and humility to learn. Regardless of how long we are in this profession, we will never have answers to all the difficult situations in the world. The capacity to reflect and be reflexive helps us to learn and grow as a person and a professional.
In 2013, I was invited to supervise the team of Medical Social Workers as an external consultant. I saw the demands and challenges the social workers faced, as they tried to fulfill their roles as best as they could. I felt their passion and commitment to do their very best. I witnessed the needs of the patients and their families and how community-based services have their unique set of challenges and constraints. Community-based services are, in many ways, not as well equipped as the hospitals. My heart naturally gravitated towards HCA when I was looking to come back to healthcare.
I try to balance between ensuring the standards of practice and work expectations are met and recognising that we are all humans – we have limitations, flaws and we all grow differently and need nurturing.
Our team has regular meetings, tutorials and learning sessions either face to face or via WhatsApp or Zoom. They call me individually to consult on their cases or challenges at work. I try to create a safe space for sharing.
At the same time, I also remind myself: what am I listening out for? What do they need from me? The work we do draws so much from us – emotionally and spiritually.
So it’s important to be supportive. As of last year, they are able to select a therapist/counsellor of their choice, outside of HCA, whom they can visit, to talk about anything.
I find myself saying this often recently. Have faith in the process, the community we are in and in divine intervention.
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